Mark Houlahan
Brand Manager, Mustang Monthly
March 1, 2011

Project Generation Gap Paint And Body Prep Being in the classic car hobby means you're constantly learning. Whether you bought your project in milk crates or as a completely built and running car ready for cruising, you'll eventually have to get your hands dirty. For many of us, there are segments of car repair we're strong in, and others that we need a helping hand with. If we had to guess, we'd say the majority of our readers are pretty handy with the basic tool chest full of sockets. They can tackle a brake system rebuild/upgrade, handle a five-speed swap, or even reupholster their classic Ford's seats and make the interior look like new with a few well-chosen parts and a can of spray paint. It's the bigger or more technical projects that sometimes get us sweating and looking for help-things like engine rebuilds or just about any type of wiring, replacing headliners, and other such "fun" projects. Usually, there's some trepidation, but help can often be found in a neighbor, club member, magazine, or car forum to get you through the rough patches. But there's one area in particular that most people dread, and that's paint and bodywork.

There are a multitude of reasons why paint and bodywork are loathed by most enthusiasts. Most likely at the top of that list are the tools and space required, experience, and a little thing called patience. Sure, a drum-to-disc brake conversion can be manhandled in a weekend or less, but it takes weeks to get a body straight enough to spray color on it. Just take those top few reasons we mentioned as a starting point. A quality paint gun can be upwards of a thousand dollars. Yeah, I've seen the $89 paint guns at the flea market, but I don't want to paint my car with one of those any more than you do. Of course, the paint gun is just the (near) final step. There are all sorts of sanding tools, sandpaper, masking paper, tape, and so forth that go into a quality paintjob. These consumables add up fast.

Photo Gallery

View Photo Gallery

Besides the tools, we also mentioned space to do the proper paintjob in. Sure, you might have had an uncle who painted his truck under the old elm tree out back, but the majority of us living in suburbia don't have a "back 40" to do the work in. I've seen a two-car garage destroyed by a neighbor trying to paint his own car (red paint dust on everything). You need a dedicated area where you can sand and prepare the body surface and a super-clean area to lay the paint, not to mention stands to hold loose items like the hood, trunk, and small body parts.

Lastly there's the experience required. It doesn't take much trial and error to do a carb and intake swap, and frankly, if you mess it up, you're out a $20 set of intake gaskets and another hour or two in labor. Getting your paintjob right is a lot harder. Today's paint technology changes constantly and you have to be up on the products and how they work. You don't want to waste a gallon of paint, which can cost you hundreds of dollars, by applying it improperly. Not to mention, what the paintjob will look like in a few months as it flakes off or cracks.

Photo Gallery

View Photo Gallery

Now we're not saying all of this to scare you away from painting your own car-not in the least. No, we're just being upfront and honest about the cost, equipment, time, space, and ability needed to do it right. Many magazines are guilty of cover words like "paint your car for $299 in a weekend," but there's a big difference between a $299 paintjob and a $10,000 paintjob. If you want to tackle the paint and bodywork of your own project, you have our utmost respect, but know going in that you'll easily spend that $299 just in tools and sandpaper if you plan to do your car right. It can take weeks to fully prep a body before one drop of color is mixed to paint it. It's a lot of back-breaking, finger-bleeding work, but the results of your hard work (or that of your paint and body guy) are the first thing people see at a cruise night or show, so don't go cheap with the products. Use name-brand paints, primers, and sealers and you won't regret spending the extra money.

Photo Gallery

View Photo Gallery

We've all heard the stories about someone's project being in "paint prison" before. Often, a shop takes restoration-type paintwork in as filler between insurance panel work. While this may sound like a great solution and a way to save money, you'll most often regret it; and whatever you do, don't tell the shop to take its time! Better yet, search out a restoration facility that specializes in classic cars. It will take much less time to complete the work, it will know how to properly mask and paint a classic car, and you'll be happier in the long run. Just know that these shops do charge more than your corner spray-booth-job shop.

In the case of our '68 Mustang fastback project, we ran into some delays getting our paint figured out (choosing a color is one of the hardest decisions you'll make in your project), and when we finally had our ducks in a row and our arms full of PPG materials courtesy of Auto Body Color & Supply (the same shop that provides paint materials to RTM Productions TV shows like Trucks!, Muscle Car, and Horsepower TV), we were deep into the summer months here in Florida. Unfortunately, that meant that Classic Creations of Central Florida, our local shop responsible for all of the body modifications and prep work to date, had a full roster of customer cars being worked on, restored, and painted, and we went to the bottom of the list. While unfortunate, it does happen and no shop wants to hold up other customers for one car. So we waited, patiently, until our time came and now we're back on the project in full force. Check out the beginning of our final body prep this month, and next month we'll tackle a few final modifications we're making, and then it'll be time to spray some color!

Photo Gallery

View Photo Gallery

Photo Gallery

View Photo Gallery